Analytics firms use online behavior to predict trends

Shortly after 9/11, comScore observed a drop in book sales. Weeks later, book retailers announced a decline in revenue due to a decline in the economy.

Web analytics firms like Hitwise and comScore are increasingly using metrics to open a window into impending consumer trends.

According to the Boston Globe, comScore informed the US Postal Service that those who receive the USPS catalog spend 15 percent more time on its website than those who don't.

Search terms allowed GM of Hitwise Bill Tancer to correctly forecast that Taylor Hicks would win American Idol after discovering that searches for rival Katharine McPhee were often paired with "yellow dress" and "wardrobe malfunction."

Tancer later created a tool to forecast the topsy-turvy housing market by watching search terms like "homes for sale," then tracking building and construction websites.

Beyond advertising, search data is full of insights that potentially reveal the "pulse of humanity." comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni tells Boston, "No research company could afford to maintain a panel of 2 million people in the offline world."

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